Crafting theme park experiences for every generation


Tyler Rizzo Storyland

As Walt Disney once famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” This quote is proven factual across the industry every season, as new capital is put in place at large and small parks worldwide.

With major investments expected to bring immediate returns and life expectancies of 30 years or longer, it is essential that decision-makers get the investment right not only for today’s audience but also for the guests who will visit “tomorrow.” Finding the balance between short-term and long-term theme park plans will likely involve the following trends in demographics

An aging population

When looking at what that guest will look like the population is increasingly senior. Especially in regions like Europe and North America. When Walt first opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, only eight per cent of the US population was 65 or older. Today, 17.3 per cent, or nearly 57 million citizens, are 65+.

This mix is likely to continue rising rapidly over the next decade. It will ultimately level off around 22 percent by 2050. The trend is greatly accelerated in Europe. Already today, 21 percent of EU citizens are 65+. By 2050, it’s estimated that over 30 percent of the EU will be made up of “retirees.”

As median age grows, the accessibility of comfortable, low-impact activities will become necessary for attracting guests. I believe the early stages of this evolution is already in evidence in parks across the world.

seaworld orlando penguin trek theme park demographics

In Florida, two United Parks & Entertainment properties are taking a break from building world’s-first thrill rides to drop in two less-intense family-friendly coasters. These are Phoenix Rising at Busch Gardens Tampa and Penguin Trek at SeaWorld Orlando. Drayton Manor, in England, removed its Intamin Giant Drop Tower. Instead, it announced a “family thrill coaster” as its replacement.

More accessible rides for changing theme park demographics

The target demographic for these attractions is families with young kids. However, these moderate experiences will remain options for an aging guest who may not be physically able to ride the intense thrill attractions that already dot the landscape.

Beyond family thrill coasters, incorporating attractions that include individualized pacing, comfortable seating, and less physical stress will appeal to a growing market. Beyond ride capital, I anticipate changes in overall ticketing behavior as well. There is often already a hurdle when it comes to eldest family members visiting a theme park. Requiring everyone to pay the same price, even if individual members opt out of the rides, creates friction.

In Orlando, Fun Spot takes a genius approach towards attacking this opportunity. Its current marketing copy specifically highlights their “pay-as-you-play” model, and the benefit of Grandma being able to enjoy the day without paying for rides she won’t or can’t ride. It’s akin to what streaming was meant to be a decade ago, finding a pricing plan that will maximize revenue while enabling the guest to choose what level of engagement they pay into.


A diverse culture

Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation, ever (for now). 48 per cent of Gen Z are from racial or ethnic minorities, including multi-racial families. This generation, which is rapidly entering their prime consumer years, also believe more strongly than any other generation that diversity is a driver of positive cultural change. Surveys show that 62 per cent believe increasing diversity is good for society.

tiana's bayou adventure

In addition to their diversity, the generation is more connected and inclusive than ever before. This inclusion drives trends from media consumption to food preferences to authentic storytelling. As venues refresh or reimagine experiences, finding an approach that speaks to a multi-cultural
population will enhance the appeal of an attraction with this group.

We are seeing the beginning of this trend in demographics across the US and EU theme parks. At Efetling in the Netherlands, a teacup ride that was themed to tribal cannibalism. Monsieur Cannibale is now Sirocco, the name of the wind current that dominates the Sahara. And most famously, the Disney parks have begun the extensive refurbishment of the former Splash Mountain ride. The theming is changing from the Song of the South characters to Princess Tiana.


A shrinking middle class

While the median age may be growing, household income is shrinking. The definition varies depending on the view of the economist you are talking to. However, it is generally accepted that those in the middle-income bracket, or adults living in households with between two-thirds and twice the median income of $90k, or between $50-$140k, are shrinking.

In the 70’s, as many as 61 percent of adults were classified as middle income. Today that number sits at just 50 percent, and it isn’t because there are more wealthy individuals. The theme park boom seen in the 1980’s was a direct result of the unprecedented economic growth in the US, particularly for middle income families.

Group of children enjoying on a spinning ride in amusement park with arms raised theme park demographics

Inflation continues to be a drain on discretionary spending, and forecasts say that these conditions will get worse. So, the once dependable middle-class market is becoming tighter. Entertainment venues will need to recognize their strengths in the market and lean into what separates them from the competitor.

New pricing strategies and premium offerings as theme park demographics shift

For some, this will be exploring the true price/value of their offer and creating a pricing strategy that aligns with the new normal of spend. Dynamic pricing is often cited as a price increase lever. However, with proper strategy and marketing this “bad-word” can be a tool to capture the price conscious and generate demand for all budgets.

For other venues, there will be a need to continue to “premiumize” the offering in new ways.

Much like Express Passes and Cabanas have created new tiers of experiences over the last 15 years, future offerings will continue to push the separation of service level experience, allowing for higher spenders to further enhance their visits.

Major macro trends will continue to put pressure on the themed entertainment industry and challenge it in ways that will change how some places look. The successful firms will find the flexibility in addressing short-term needs with the opportunity to reshape their offering for the long-term trends.


Article by Tyler RizzoStoryland Studios

Credit Blooloop.com